Column: In tragedy of crash, a businessman expressed empathyI was the editor on call on a Saturday two weeks ago and about to head home after playing in an indoor soccer game when my cell phone rang. A Cirrus plane had crashed. It wasn’t local — it was in Colorado — but it was serious.
By: Jimmy Bellamy, Duluth News Tribune
I was the editor on call on a Saturday two weeks ago and about to head home after playing in an indoor soccer game when my cell phone rang. A Cirrus plane had crashed. It wasn’t local — it was in Colorado — but it was serious.
Less than a half-hour later I was in the newsroom learning the terrible details. There were three dead. The Cirrus collided with another plane pulling a glider. The glider flew through a ball of fire. Two men in the Cirrus and the pilot of the other plane died. Miraculously, the glider passengers were unhurt.
We called the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo., the scene of the accident, and they were more than willing to collaborate with us. “What was that parachute?” they asked, wondering if it was someone trying to escape the Cirrus who had gotten stuck on the way out. No, we told them, Cirrus planes have built-in parachutes, and apparently it worked, even through the midair collision.
Unfortunately, though the parachute performed as it was designed to, floating the plane to the ground, it could not save the lives of brothers Bob and Mark Matthews. They each left behind families.
I found a haunting posting on Twitter identifying one of the men as his uncle. That led to a colleague reaching another relative, who said, “It’s so terrible. ... Both [men] died right near their homes. It’s absolutely horrifying.”
It was my job to call Cirrus. Being a Saturday night and the reluctance of some officials to talk about their products in the event of an accident, I didn’t expect a reply.
But Cirrus vice president Bill King called me back, and he didn’t say “no comment” or give a company line. He started saying, “Here’s our official statement,” but quickly veered off and spoke candidly.
“Our first concern is for the family of the people who are involved in the accident. That’s where our thoughts and our prayers are,” King said. “We have years to figure out what happened [with the aircraft], but these families are hurting now.”
The victims were 25-year-old Alex Gilmer of Ever-green, Colo., the pilot of the Piper Pawnee, who served as a Marine sergeant in Iraq; Bob Matthews, 58, the Cirrus SR20 pilot, who was a Boulder attorney, and his brother, Mark, 56, an engineer from Englewood, Colo.
“They were just extremely kind, humble, loving family men,” John McClymont, who went to college at the University of Nebraska with the Matthews brothers, told the Daily Camera on Feb. 13. “I know that gets said a lot at funerals, but it’s really true of these guys.”
None of this was known immediately at the time of the accident, and King asked me who the victims were. Whether he knew Cirrus owner Matthews, I don’t know, but he still expressed empathy when I told him. He didn’t sound like a business guy.
“For these families, it’s the worst day of their lives,” King said.
“We have dedicated our lives to building the best, safest aircraft in the world in our class. It breaks your heart [when tragedies occur].”
Jimmy Bellamy is the Duluth News Tribune multimedia editor. He can be reached at (218) 723-5390 or firstname.lastname@example.org.